Fan Fare

Mark Story: It's time for Kentucky to consider changing conferences

Cats' Football futility reason to consider ACC

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistSeptember 25, 2011 

Florida Gators running back Chris Rainey (1) reversed his field and ran the ball to the 1 yd. line, to set up a Florida TD in the first quarter of the University of Kentucky vs. University of Florida football game on Saturday, August 24, 2011 at Commonwealth Stadium. Photo by David Perry | Staff

DAVID PERRY | STAFF

  • SEC

    Eastern Division

    Florida 2009 13-1

    Georgia 2008 10-3

    Kentucky 1984 9-3

    S. Carolina 2010 10-4

    Tennessee 2007 10-4

    Vanderbilt 1915 9-1

    Western Division

    Alabama 2010 10-3

    Arkansas 2010 10-3

    Auburn 2010 14-0

    LSU 2010 11-2

    Mississippi 2009 9-4

    Miss. St. 2010 9-4

    BIG EAST

    Cincinnati 2009 12-1

    Connecticut 2007 9-4

    Louisville 2006 12-1

    Pittsburgh 2009 10-3

    Rutgers 2009 9-4

    S. Florida 2007 9-4

    Syracuse 2001 10-3

    W. Virginia 2010 9-4

    ACC

    Atlantic Division

    Boston Coll. 2008 9-5

    Clemson 2009 9-5

    Florida St. 2010 10-4

    Maryland 2010 9-4

    N.C. State 2010 9-4

    Wake Forest 2007 9-4

    Coastal Division

    Duke 1941 9-1

    x-Ga. Tech 2009 10-3

    Miami 2009 9-4

    N. Carolina 1997 11-1

    Virginia 2007 9-4

    Virginia Tech 2010 11-3

    BIG TEN

    Leaders Division

    Illinois 2007 9-4

    Indiana 1967 9-2

    y-Ohio St. 2009 11-2

    Penn St. 2009 11-2

    Purdue 2003 9-4

    Wisconsin 2010 11-2

    Legends Division

    Iowa 2009 11-2

    Michigan 2007 9-4

    Michigan St. 2010 11-2

    Minnesota 2003 10-3

    Nebraska 2010 10-4

    Northwestern 2008 9-4

    BIG 12

    Baylor 1986 9-3

    Iowa St. 2000 9-3

    Kansas 2007 12-1

    Kansas St. 2003 11-4

    Missouri 2010 10-3

    Oklahoma 2010 12-2

    Okla. St. 2010 11-2

    Texas 2009 13-1

    Texas A&M 2010 9-4

    Texas Tech 2009 9-4

    PAC-12

    North

    California 2008 9-4

    Oregon 2010 12-1

    Oregon St. 2008 9-4

    Stanford 2010 12-1

    Washington 2000 11-1

    Wash. State 2003 10-3

    South

    Arizona 1998 12-1

    Arizona St. 2007 10-3

    Colorado 2002 9-5

    UCLA 2005 10-2

    USC 2009 9-4

    Utah 2010 10-3

  • x-Georgia Tech went 11-3 but was subsequently stripped of its victory in the 2009 ACC championship game over Clemson by the NCAA for the use of an ineligible player.y-Ohio State went 12-1 in 2010 but vacated those wins as part of self-imposed sanctions because of NCAA rules violations.

  • When was the last time?

    Below are the most recent years in which football teams from the six BCS automatic-qualifying conferences won at least nine games in a season.

As The Long Suffering UK Football Fan knows all too well, the last time the Kentucky Wildcats won nine games in a year (regular season and bowl) was 1984.

A friend of mine who is much frustrated by UK's consistent inability to make a big splash on the football field contacted me recently with a challenge:

Guess how many schools from the six BCS automatic-qualifying conferences have not won nine games in a season since 1984?

I looked it up. Some fairly sad-sack football programs are NOT on this futility honor roll. Baylor has won at least nine games in a season at least once since 1984. So have Iowa State, Minnesota, Washington State and Wake Forest.

Egghead schools such as Stanford and Northwestern each have won at least nine in a season since 1984. So have relatively new major-college football schools South Florida and Connecticut.

Turns out, there are only four schools from the six BCS automatic-qualifying conferences that have not had at least one nine-win season since 1984.

Drum roll, please, they are: Vanderbilt (last nine-win season 1915), Duke (1941), Indiana (1967), and UK (1984).

Ouch.

I bring this up not to contribute to the overflowing stream of negativity that has engulfed the Kentucky football program so far in 2011.

Instead, in this era of elastic conference affiliations, I keep coming back to this: If UK is committed to winning in football, isn't it time to at least think about finding a different league in which to play?

Southeastern Conference football is the gold standard. It features big-time stadiums, massive fan bases and, collectively, the best players on display this side of the NFL.

The problem for Kentucky is that playing in the mac daddy of college football leagues, UK hasn't had a winning record in SEC games since 1977.

Going into Saturday night's fracas with Florida, UK was 22-66 so far in the 21st century against SEC foes.

During UK's current five-year bowl streak — the best period of non-cheating (as far as we know) for Kentucky football in my lifetime — the Cats are still only 14-26 in league games.

History says Kentucky isn't going to win in a big way that is sustainable in football in the Southeastern Conference.

Nevertheless UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart told reporters last week that Kentucky has not been approached by any other leagues and is happy in the Southeastern Conference.

We may or may not ever get to the much-discussed four, 16-team super-conferences for major-college football. Whether that happens or not, it seems apparent that the four most stable leagues — the four conferences you have to be in going forward to feel secure — are the SEC, the Big Ten, the Pac-12 and the ACC.

For UK to even entertain the idea of leaving its historic home in the Southeastern Conference, it would have to land in one of the other of the big three leagues to hold on to its status as a big-time college sports program.

Obviously, the Pac-12 is not realistic for geographic reasons alone.

Two years ago, when it became apparent the Big Ten was looking to expand, I asked if Kentucky shouldn't try to get into that process.

With Nebraska having since joined that league, the Big Ten may not be as hospitable a football landing place as it appeared before.

Which brings us to the ACC.

Having pilfered Syracuse and Pittsburgh from the Big East, the Atlantic Coast Conference will soon have 14 teams. The league's commissioner, John Swofford, says the ACC is not philosophically opposed to 16.

In evaluating expansion candidates, presumably the ACC is looking for schools that bring a large television "footprint" (a Rutgers) and/or that would enhance the league's football status (a Notre Dame).

That isn't exactly Kentucky.

Then again, UK would bring the ACC a rabid statewide following, the TV markets of Lexington and Louisville plus significant fan interest in ancillary markets like Cincinnati, Nashville and Dayton. UK is also a national brand in men's basketball.

What would Kentucky get in the ACC?

UK basketball, having proven beyond all doubt it can dominate a football-first SEC, could test itself in a hoops-crazed ACC against the likes of North Carolina, Duke and Syracuse.

Kentucky football would move into a league not nearly so top heavy as the SEC, yet could retain its current recruiting pipelines into states like Georgia and South Carolina (because UK would still be playing against Georgia Tech and Clemson in those states).

People like to say that the best definition of insanity is continually doing the same thing while expecting a different result.

Since a chap named Paul Bryant was the Kentucky coach, UK has amassed a grand total of three nine-win football seasons playing in the SEC — and the Bear hasn't worked here since 1953.

Isn't it time to at least consider trying something different?

Reach Mark Story at (859) 231-3230 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3230, or mstory@herald-leader.com.

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